Safe.

The first time I stepped into gay bar it was November 1986. The bar was called “Doc’s”. It was located in the basement of a pediatrician’s office in Jamestown, N.Y. I was a freshman in college at the time. I had met a guy at the college production of “The Normal Heart” and he thought we could meet up for a drink. He was 21, I was 18. Below drinking age and having never stepped foot in a bar on my own, I made the drive and walked in, ordering a Coca-Cola from the bartender. The bar wasn’t really big; it could probably hold 75 without everyone feeling overly cramped. There were three rooms once you descended the stairs into the basement: a room with a pool table, a room with some couches and chairs and other relaxation areas and the main room which had the bar, a decently sized dance floor and a few tables in chairs at the end opposite the bar.

The bar had about 40 people in it when I walked in and I felt everyone’s eyes on me; I was a new face. Having grown up in a small town where my contact with gay men was very minimal, I was probably quite skittish and didn’t strike up conversation with many folks. I just wanted to meet the guy I had met a few nights before.

I was always uncomfortable in unfamiliar social situations because I was always worried that I would be “found out” and subsequently be taunted for being gay. After a few moments of standing by myself, I came to the realization that this wouldn’t be a concern for me at Doc’s, everyone else there was gay. For the first time in my life, I relaxed and let my guard down. In that space at that moment, it was OK to be me. For the next couple of years going to a gay bar would be the only place where I could really be myself. Of course I was still socially awkward, that’s just part of my modus operandi. But I was less socially awkward there. If I was going to be taunted it would be due to my cheesy mustache or my poor fashion choices, not simply because of being gay.

The folks at Pulse in Orlando last weekend were just out for a fun night with friends in a space they considered safe. Now, 2016 is much different than 1986 when it comes to being gay in public, however, I imagine for many the gay bar is where they still felt like they were in a safe space. They could be themselves and let their guard down.

Except a man decided that he wanted to go in and kill as many “perverts” as possible. Whether he was indoctrinated, taught or just came up with the belief that gay folks are perverts is not relevant. The fact of that matter is he made the conscious decision to go into a gay bar and massacre as many gay folks as possible.

They just wanted to dance, have fun and feel safe.

Politicians have been quick to politicize the event. This massacre has been labeled a terrorist attack, presumably due to the assailant’s allegiance to ISIS. The fact of the matter is, this was a hate crime. This was a deliberate attack on individuals that are wired differently than many. People that are still demonized, ostracized and beat over the head with Bible verses for being sick, perverted, etc.

A couple of the victims were friends of a coworker and his family. Reports are showing screenshots of children writing to their parents moments before they were shot dead. This is the biggest mass shooting in the history of “The Greatest Country On Earth”.

I really wish we’d start acting like our grand declaration of “The Greatest Country On Earth”. We hear that a lot, don’t we. “Number One!” “Number One!” “Number One!”. When are going to start living up to our own hype and getting beyond stupid prejudice acts of killing like this? When are we going to start enacting sensible gun control? We all have to take our shoes off at the airport because one idiot decided to hide a bomb in his shoe but how many mass shootings will it take before someone says, “hey, we need to do something about guns.”

Just to be clear, I don’t believe that we should take away everyone’s guns. As I mentioned yesterday, that’s not going to solve the problem. But I do believe that we need to add another layer of security to the process of obtaining a gun.

All these folks wanted yesterday was to be in a safe place to have a great night out with friends.

Words can not express how terrible it is that they had to do die for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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